The Arab World: Society, Culture, and State

In This Review

The Arab World: Society, Culture, and State

By Halim Barakat
University of California Press, 1993
348 pp. $30.00
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The author of this broad survey of the contemporary Arab world is a Syrian-born sociologist and author. He is also a strong advocate of revolutionary transformation of the Arab world, which he believes has a future as a unified nation--democratic, secular and egalitarian. This vision of the future, and the glaring contrast between it and the present, creates the analytical framework of this ambitious book. Barakat is harsh both in his critique of virtually all Western scholarship on the Arab world and in his own assessment of Arab society (including the role of Islam). His differences with non-Arab scholars often seem to involve little more than his own good intentions. He criticizes Arab society in order to transform it, whereas others have done so to dominate and demoralize it. Apart from this irritating perspective, the book is often insightful concerning problems of the Arab world. But the author's adherence to class analysis and his belief in the liberating power of ideas seems to obscure and oversimplify the problem of actually bringing about change in Arab society. Little attention is paid, for example, to the role of education, or to what the state does or does not do to foster social change. The author seems to believe that change will come when his revolutionary ideas enter the consciousness of the Arab masses. For a sociologist, this is a remarkably idealistic view.